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West Point-Beemer girls wrestling, 2.02

West Point-Beemer girls wrestling coach Ray Maxwell (center right) yells instructions to a wrestler as teammate Estefania Barragan (center left) cheers her teammate on during a meet Feb. 2 at Cedar Bluffs High School.

Girls don’t want to wrestle boys. Boys don’t want to wrestle girls.

There is a general consensus around the state of Nebraska that boys wrestling boys and girls wrestling girls is the goal.

“No one likes the girls wrestling the boys,” NSAA assistant director Ron Higdon said. “The girls don’t like it. The boys don’t like it. The Catholic schools don’t like it. The administrators don’t like it. The parents don’t like it. Everything points at them having the opportunity to compete against each other.”

That is what sparked the idea that has spread like wildfire throughout Nebraska: giving female wrestlers their own platform.

Soon, wrestling could be divided into two sanctioned sports, much like boys and girls basketball or boys and girls soccer.

Higdon said there is no reason why girls don’t have their own sport, the only thing stalling it being the need for an official proposal.

“It’s effort,” Higdon said. “This is the first time it’s been proposed. The NSAA can’t propose to sanction a sport. It has to come from its member schools.”

Currently in Nebraska, any girls out for wrestling are on the same roster as the boys, and if they want to wrestle in varsity matches, they have to wrestle each other.

This has caused some problems, but problems that would go away if the NSAA sanctions girls wrestling with a three-fifths vote at its representative assembly meeting in April.

“Of all the classes and sports I was involved in in high school, this taught me more about life than anything,” West Point-Beemer coach Ray Maxwell said. “The hard work, discipline you have to have; you’re out there on your own and there is no one else to blame. There are just tons of lessons that come from this sport and I want to extend that to the ladies just like I do the men.”

The problem Maxwell is hinting at is private schools not letting their boy wrestlers compete against girls.

"I’ve seen it," Maxwell said. "I’ve been coaching for a long time, at the state tournament, a parochial school or based on their own religious beliefs, they won’t wrestle a girl. Whether it's the NSAA or the school, you’re supposed to be in it for the kids and you’re punishing a kid for their religious beliefs or a school they go to because a girl, luck of the draw, is in your way. You give up on your dream because hey, luck of the draw.”

Maxwell is one of the pioneers behind the movement to get girls wrestling sanctioned in Nebraska.

It was he and High Plains coach Norm Manstedt, Maxwell’s high school coach, and former Cambridge coach Les Painter who led the charge that has now swept the state.

“It all started with a Google doc,” Painter said. “Norm and I probably talked every day. We didn’t start writing this thing until the first of October and we had to have it in by Nov. 1. We had some work to do.”

They got the work done. It was proposed to three of the six school districts in Nebraska and it passed in all three. The proposal made its way to the six NSAA district meetings in January and passed in four of the six.

Manstedt, who will retire after next week’s state tournament after 50 years of coaching, has heard push-back in all sorts of ways about girls wrestling over the past years.

One thing that has came up is the notion that "wrestling is not a feminine sport." He has a simple answer to that.

"If you watch the girls basketball tournament, it’s not a very feminine sport either," he said. "When you blow the whistle and the competition starts, everybody’s out to win. They don’t keep track of where their hair is, you know. They’re out to compete and out to win. It’s not going to be like the boys. It’s going to be different and it should be different."

All three of the coaches acknowledged the difference in the art itself, from girls to boys.

Maxwell said he spends a lot more time instructing instead of conditioning than he'd like.

For a lot of his wrestlers, it’s their first time wrestling — or even being around the sport — so basic fundamentals need to be taught.

“We spend so much time in stance, position, body position,” Maxwell said. “They don’t understand that you don’t want to just flop to your hip; that’s a bad position. A lot of them just want to be on their side on the mat, especially when they start.”

Teaching the girls how to use their feet, control their weight and put pressure on their opponent and other little things "just take time," Maxwell said.

“It’s just basic stuff that you just assumed because you’ve been at it so long. It’s just starting from scratch in some areas.”

The difference in body types, from girls to boys, has been a big adjustment as well.

“Girls are a lot more limber than guys,” Maxwell said. “Moves that work with guys, because his shoulders are tight and muscular, with girls their arms just go out because they’re loose in the shoulders.”

All of these factors make girls wrestling "in some ways, a different sport," Manstedt said.

The support for this sport goes far and wide, as well.

Former Nebraska running back and current Omaha Northwest wrestling coach Clinton Childs said, “It’s been a long time coming for women having an opportunity to compete as well.”

Childs has coached many girls in his coaching career, Brittney Taylor being the most decorated.

She is the only girl to ever walk in the "Parade of Champions," which takes place before the championship matches at the Nebraska state wrestling tournament.

Taylor, of Omaha North, lost to Grand Island’s Andrew Reidy in the 103-pound state final in 2009.

Painter, Manstedt, Childs and Maxwell offer a united front for their girls.

That will not change.

“I want girls to develop into honorable young women and have confidence to do anything the world offers them,” Maxwell said. “I still try to present to them that they are not physically equal with guys, because they’re not. Men have testosterone in their system. They’re stronger physically, but you have strengths guys don’t have. Find your niche in life and fulfill it. This is just a training for life, for me.”

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